Pretty soon, many people will be talking about the games and the people they ran into at the mid-November IAAPA Expo in Orlando. Before that grabs hold of the coin-op conversation too tightly, I want to give a shout-out to the jukebox, not because any terrifying piece of legislation has come down the pipe, but just because I’ve gotten a tad retrospective in my advancing years and thought how central that machine has been to my life. Maybe your life, too.
I fell in love with music when I heard Les Paul’s amazing electronic guitar feats playing on a jukebox in a Connecticut restaurant as a small kid. The tune was How High the Moon and the record measured 10” in diameter. Yeah, I can remember the moment even today. Years later, I heard Bill Haley screaming “One, two, three o’clock rock” from a Wurlitzer in a hot dog joint in the East Bronx and became a lifetime lover of rock ’n’ roll.
That germinated into my boy band (the Castle Kings), a contract with Atlantic Records, two not-so-hot records, a copy of the music trade magazine Cash Box and then a job at that publication doing the coin machine section. Oh, yeah, then came RePlay in 1975. That’s the thread of my life and I guess still is except those 10” records are history as are those outrageously-lit music boxes that weighed a couple hundred pounds (but now have slimmed down to hang on a barroom wall).
But there’s been more to it than that. There’s the emotional side of sitting on a stool, listening to Kenny Rogers tell Lucille she picked a fine time to leave him, followed by Long, Tall Sally to change the mood. Did you know that more money goes into jukeboxes to play those plaintive “I lost my lady” dirges like Lucille than the jumpy tunes? Can you figure out why? When anthropologists figure that hot dogs and apple pie typify Americana they leave out the third element – the “music machine,” as Chuck Berry liked to call it.
There are not all that many things more central to our culture than that which, like smelling freshly mowed grass, can get the happiness endorphins flowing like the music you heard on the jukebox back in the day. I recently read that famed Texas novelist Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove, etc.) depicted small town America in the fifties as “little to be nostalgic for, apart from the (songs on the) jukebox.” That’s a little dark, but we all get his meaning. Anyway, that’s my take…and my emotional moment on a machine which used to define what we now call the “coin-op“ business.